As I tucked my nine year old son M into bed, I noticed he was sobbing.
“There’s no such thing as magic,” he began. “No one believes in me.”
I didn’t know how to respond and when I don’t know, it’s best to just listen.
It turns out that the latest fad at his school is magic. Not the Pixar kind, but actual magic tricks with cards and coins.
“I showed my tricks to the kids on the block and they said they didn’t believe in me. They didn’t even say I did a good job. They just thought I was lame.”
I thought about it. He didn’t want his tricks to be cool or WOW his friends; he just wanted them to appreciate him and to be proud of him. He wanted their approval.
He went on, “My friend P and X in my class would never have said that. They would have said they thought it was cool.”
“In life,” I said. “We have lots of friends. We have best friends that we tell our secrets and know they’ll always have good things to say. And we also have friends you know aren’t always going to tell you ‘Good job’. I’m NOT saying ONLY keep your best friends but save the really important things for your best friends.”
He seemed to understand the message though in that moment I felt like I failed him. Shouldn’t my own son feel so empowered that he can conquer the world?
Then he mumbled something. By this time he’s crying and I grab some tissues to wipe his tears. Like when Harry Potter falls into Dumbledore’s memory puddle, I get sent back into time when my husband just left that morning for his first deployment to Iraq. M was four years old. The tears flowed that night too.
“What did you say, M?” I asked gently.
“Daddy didn’t believe me,” he said. “He knew it was a trick.”
Ah. I finally understood. Father’s Day was three days away. He was holding back. It was about Daddy and all of these mixed up, intense feelings were coming up as something else. Anything else. But I wasn’t going to prod him. He’ll tell me when he wants to tell me. If he wants to tell me.
Somehow I got M to trust that maybe Daddy only knew that trick and to try more next time he saw him. Surely he couldn’t know ALL of them, right?
M finally calmed himself down. As I tucked him in, I repeated “I BELIEVE IN YOU” several times until his face relaxed. I started to name all of the people in his life who believe in him.
Luckily, he fell asleep before I could finish. I’ll be sure to tell him that he didn’t hear everyone’s names at breakfast tomorrow. With Father’s Day weekend just ahead, I know I’ll be wiping even more tears until the chatter about the weekend dies down at school. I only hope that M can find the strength to seek out his best friends when he really needs them.
I believe he will.